Returning to College When It Didn't Work Out the First Time
If you're thinking of giving college a second chance... or you are trying to convince a college to give you a second chance... either way you can rest assured that you are not alone. Whether your original post-secondary experience ended because you needed to take care of family or personal concerns, sort out what you truly wanted, focus on work to make money, grow up a little, or because your grades were disappointing, you share a common experience with millions of Americans. Now as you consider a return to college, you likely share common goals and fears, as well. The steps are easy, though the decision may seem difficult. The key is to fairly assess what you have going for you this time.
Colleges and universities are usually willing to forgive (not forget) and give you a new opportunity, no matter how your experience ended previously. After all, it's just business to them, and frankly they could use your tuition. If you find yourself in a position where you need to justify to the school your reasons for leaving, typically all that is required is to write an explanation in the form of an application essay or a petition to be placed back on probation with the university. This is your opportunity to tell your story, describe what you've learned since your initial experience that will help you move forward with your education, and answer the questions "why do you want to go back to college?" and "what do you have going for you now that will assure your success this time around?"
Why Do You Want to Go Back to College?
Having a clear answer to this question will go a long way towards helping you make your decision. Perhaps your motivations are similar to other returning students. According to Degrees of Opportunity, a 2006 national study by Capella University, the attitudes of adult Americans (age 25 to 60) reveal a rich mix of pragmatism, self interest and altruism including:
- A personal sense of accomplishment
- Developing talents/pursuing interests
- Earning a higher income
- Changing careers or industries
- Becoming an expert in their field
- Being a good role model for their children.
The study revealed that more than 70 million Americans would like to pursue additional education - even if just to learn something new. Nine out of 10 of the study's respondents (89%) considered the benefits of higher education equal to or greater than the time, money and energy invested. Yet only 1/3 of those said they were likely to actually pursue higher education, largely due to time and financial constraints.
What Do You Have Going for You Now That Will Assure Your Success This Time Around?
If you, too, are hesitating to return to school because you're already busy with family and tight for money, this is where returning to college later in life can really pay off. Consider the advantages to pursuing an education at this point in your life:
- your cumulative work background may have taught you skills for success as a student, such as discipline, priority management and the value of an education
- from life experience, you've had the opportunity to clarify what areas of your life you would like to strengthen and how school might help you do it
- you're (hopefully) on better financial footing than you were just out of high school
- with your resume in hand, you have the power to select employers with education assistance / tuition reimbursement programs
- there are online resources now available to search for scholarships and college programs
- there are breaks in financial aid, housing and scholarships for "non-traditional" age students
- colleges offer programs designed for adult learners, those who work full-time, and those who want specific education related to their career
- online learning opportunities are available to overcome time and geographic constraints that previously may have influenced your choices
- you may be more willing to consider part time, continued ed or vocational options that previously you didn't consider
- adult students are becoming the new majority on college campuses, so you'll have the social support of other returning students
- the odds of success - most adults over the age of 25 who return to school complete their program of choice
Perhaps your most powerful asset as a returning student is being part of a critical mass. Consider this statistic from the National Center for Education Statistics: In 1970, the number of students over the age of 35 returning to school was at 9.2% (approximately. 823,000) and in 2001 the same student demographic represented 19.2% (approximately 2.9 million) – that’s a 100% increase! Now, consider the changes in technology, formalized programs and social acceptability of e-learning that has occurred since 2001. Returning students are transforming the face of higher education.
As a result of this major shift in their employee's approach to career planning, employers have had to work with the winding career path of many job applicants - not the straight highway of previous decades. Most of the returning students they see have a barrage of experience, then a degree, then a minimal amount more of experience - and they're much clearer on what they want. Like colleges, employers are recognizing that applicants who had a work history and then schooling are just as valuable, if not more, than applicants who have taken the traditional route to post-secondary education.
So, as you write your application essay to return to school, be confident in the value you bring with you to both your school and your future employers. Be encouraged - according to the Degrees of Opportunity study, more than half of those who did go back to school said they wish they'd done it sooner — and virtually no students said they wished they'd waited longer.